All it took was a 4-hour flight and I was able to escape the snowy Midwest for a much warmer and dryer climate in Arizona. I had been to Arizona twice before, but both trips were race related and I didn’t get to do much riding. This time I had 9 whole days to train my legs off with my friends.
The contrast between Arizona and Michigan weather was obvious the moment my plane arrived. It was midnight and temps were still in the 50’s, a huge difference from the 15-degree weather I had left behind. My friend Jason (who lives in Phoenix) picked me up at the airport and kept complaining about how cold it was. I could only shake my head in disbelief. It felt so warm to me I was ready to pull out my shorts and flip-flops.
The next day I was up at the crack of dawn. Not only was I going to ride my Dos Niner for the first time, I was going to ride it on real dirt. To say that I was excited would be an understatement.
Desert trail is a lot different from the type of trail I train on in the Midwest. I’m used to narrow singletrack with hard packed dirt, a lot of trees, and the occasional sand pit. Most of the trails that I rode in Arizona were a lot more open. However, they were covered with so many rocks that there was still only one line to pick. And there were a few instances where there was absolutely NO line to be seen at all. It was at these moments where my Dos Niner made up for a lot of human error. I quickly found out that if I just pointed my bike forward and kept pedaling my big wheels would roll over just about everything.
I’m pro at banging my knuckles against trees in tight singletrack, and my first thought while riding in the desert was that my hands were in the clear. Au contraire my friends! Desert singletrack is lined with a type of cactus called Cholla, and it is EVERYWHERE! There was one ride in particular where my best friend Juli and I were both attacked by the same Cholla cactus. I’m not quite sure how we managed this, but the desert foothills were echoing with our screams. Looking back I can laugh about it now, but at the time it was decidedly not funny! After that, we learned to call out Cholla the same way that we call out potholes during road rides in Michigan. We were all, “cholla on the right,” or “cholla on the left.” It was a pretty good system!
The rest of my trip went by in a blur of fun bike adventures with my friends and I ended up getting 30 hours of riding in. Each day we would fill our hydrapaks full with water, shove lots of food in our jersey pockets, and ride until we were on empty. Most of the downhills were really technical, and required a lot of concentration, and some of the climbs were so steep that I could only stare at the ground right in front of me. However, we always stopped at the top to take it all in. I have a whole new appreciation for how beautiful the desert is. Sometimes the views were so pretty they seemed unreal.
I can’t believe it’s been almost a month since I’ve been back in the Midwest. My newly acquired tan lines are already almost gone, but luckily my memories are not. And all I have to do when I really want to reminisce about my trip is rub my pinky finger. I’m pretty sure I carried a few Cholla thorns home with me!